Kimberly Crupi Dobbins’ healthy snack business, Simple Squares, keeps growing — and proving a inspiration for would-be entrepreneurs who dream of leaving corporate jobs and building their own dream business.
When we first told the Chicago company’s start-up story in July 2014, Crupi Dobbins had found her legs. Having left a six-figure job in human resources at the financial-services firm Morningstar in 2011 and enduring several stops and starts, she was selling her homemade nutrition bars in 2,500 stores, including Whole Foods and Fairway locations.
Made of only five simple ingredients — and free of wheat, gluten, dairy, soy and refined sugars — she had found a solid niche market in adherents to gluten-free, vegan, raw-food and paleo diets. In 2013, she had sold 450,000 bars, generally in 12-packs retailing for about $30. And she employed two full-time and two part-time employees to help with sales, accounting and business development.
By the time we recorded our 2015 podcast episode, Simple Squares had had expanded beyond health-food and specialty stores and into gyms and airports, as it pursued “road warrior” customers eager for healthier snack options on the go. And though Crupi Dobbins was beginning to think about raising growth capital to ease rising cash-flow pressures, she was still managing to bootstrap the company.
When we circled back for a September 2016 series on scaling up, she was in the midst of a new leg of growth. Bar sales had tripled to about 1.5 million over the previous 12 months, thanks to new distribution deals. She had added two new Whole Foods regions for a total of five, making Simple Squares bars available in stores throughout the West Coast and in the Southeast and Midwest. She got bigger in Texas, too, thanks to new grocery chains there. And she had begun to expand internationally with moves into Australia and Canada. Her four employees were all now working full-time.
A key decision turned out to be her January 2015 move to an incubator space full of tech startups and out of her home office. “It was energizing” to be part of an entrepreneurial community that supported female founders, she said.
The new environment helped light a fire under long simmering plans to raise money. That summer, she raised $1 million in a single round from two male investors — the first people she pitched. One was a mentor and the other a food and beverage expert. “They always talk about ‘smart money’ and bringing in people who are going to help build your business, and I feel like I have that with both investors,” she said.
Now Crupi Dobbins is really thinking big. In September, Simple Squares debuted in Chicago Starbucks locations in a modest “launch to see how they do — and hopefully they do well,” she said. And she was talking about making a big move into conventional grocery stores.
The bar recipes that have brought her so much success the past five years won’t change, she promised. But otherwise, she was tight lipped about her emerging strategy, saying only: “The plan is to stay true to the brand and grow so that we are available to the masses, and not just to organic, natural consumers.”
Watch our 2014 video profile of Kimberly Dobbins below: